Sunday, November 1, 2009

Keys To My Castle

As I pulled into the farm, not much had changed since my prior visit. The morning was cool and crisp but no bad storms and the weather called for a nice day. I prayed my utilities and gas hook up had happened.

As planned, my house key was left in a flower pot on the back porch. Along with a few newer keys, attached were the original skeleton keys to the front door. Sweet.

Lights, check. Phone, check. Water, nope. No way to check the gas as it was for the heat and hot water heater.

Settle in dogs and cat, fret over daughter's tummy and first impression of her Mom's purchase.

Quick run to Walmart 17 miles away to pick up food, bottled water, tummy remedy and even more cleaning supplies, I left daughter sleeping in recliner left from previous owners.

After searching all the lines and outbuildings, I found the water cut off valve and got the water running. Somewhat. One toilet was stopped up, the other ran pretty bad and there was a water leak in one bathroom where the claw foot bathtub had been removed. A call to the realtor gave a reference to a local plumber that would arrive tomorrow. Since we were "hurricane girls" we knew could rough it one night.

Exhausted and running on adrenaline, I decided the easiest place to clean and prepare for sleep was the foyer. I scrubbed from floor to ceiling, set up the two recliners with linens and there was the temporary bedroom.

And I cleaned. And cleaned. And then I cleaned some more. Daughter slept and felt better in small increments. No more upchucking but very little eating. She even rallied for a short period of time and scrubbed out the old refridge, making it sparkle like new. I was overjoyed that both the fridge and stove actually worked for my budget was slim for this move. Very slim. Barely $3000 total to carry me until a job came along.

Our plumbers came and took care of all plumbing related matters. Seems this house had been a bit of an enigma for the father and son pair. I was told this was probably one of the few houses in the county they had not visited in one way or another. Curiosity reigned as they crawled up the attic, down in the root cellar, thru out the entire house proclaiming it a great, sound building after inspection, well worthy of restoring. Other than a few areas, most of the work that was needed was cleaning and painting, just cosmetic in nature. Same thing I had heard from the realtor when she had a contractor take a peek after I had bought it. I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I could clean. I could paint. I could rough it.

The visit lasted for well over two hours, and when it was done, I had my first friends in my new home. And they had a great story to tell of the Florida lady who bought the old place.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Tying Up Loose Ends

In Florida, I contacted a realtor and had put my little villa up for sale. It took 2 showings and three days and I had a signed contract for the full asking price.

This was real.

I started phase two of packing and planning. I made arrangements for utilities to be switched on at the farm. I had inspections and appraisals at the villa.

I had to tell friends and family. I had to give notice at work. I had to do the hardest thing imaginable- I had to say Goodbye to everyone I knew. Amazingly enough, as soon as everyone realized when I said I bought the farm, I really meant it, they had more faith in me than I did. I was scared.

My closing in Fl would be in the morning and my closing for the farm would be in the afternoon on the same day, my birthday, no less.

Happy 49th Birthday, me.

I would be staying overnight with a friend to show in my last dog show in Fl and wait for my daughter to get off work as she was riding up with me to help get me settled in. She would be flying back 3 days later. It was such a comfort to have her with me but I was unsettled at the same time. What if she was not comfortable with me staying? The last thing I wanted was for her to worry about me.

I crammed as much as I could in a Pod and off it went. Amazing how much you cannot get in one of those. I took very little furniture save for a few treasured pieces. Being such a rural area that the farm is in, there was no chance of home delivery and set up for the Pod. My only option was to park it at the closest storage area was about 90 minutes away. And pray I would find someone to help me unload and bring my belongings to my new home.

Since living thru three hurricanes and enduring lengthy periods of time with no power, you get pretty good at camping out at home. The same applied to this move. Using that mindset, I packed a few kitchen utensils, blow up bed, work uniforms and clothes suitable for cleaning and painting, basic essentials, every important piece of paperwork known to me, cleaning supplies, lots of cd's, 5 dogs, one cat and one daughter into a aged two door Explorer and hit the road at 6pm Saturday night. The plan was to drive straight thru while the animals slept.

It almost worked. Other than stopping for gas, leg stretches and human potty breaks all went pretty smooth. I was all adenaline and worried for the comfort of the dogs happily snoring in the back.

At about sunrise, an hour away from our destination, my daughter says "Mom, my stomach doesn't feel right."

Stoic person that she is, her stomach had been rumbling in protest for most of the night making her miserable. It finally won when we crossed the city limit sign of my new hometown. Right in the parking lot of the local pizza parlor.

I had arrived.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

A Quick Trip To The Future

Amazingly enough, changing your whole life can be pretty easy on paper.

My realtor pitched my proposal to the seller's agent, the necessary back and forth calls were made, a few faxes and the deal was sealed. Drop a check in the mail, pick a closing date, good to go. Simple as that. Really.

Everything was a blur- I had bought a farm. Sight unseen, a 100+ year old house. On a strangers recommendation. It only made sense that maybe I should take a trip up to see just what I had gotten into.

Two weeks later, a friend and I flew up to Charlotte, rented a car and off we went on my great adventure. Other than the realtor in NC, only two friends and my daughter knew what I had done so it was a super secret mission.

January in NC can be just awful. The day before we arrived, a huge storm had come thru the area leaving tree limbs down, grey windy skys and everything was cold and wet. I worried that this was an omen.

We found our way to a neighboring town, met with the realtor and hit the road to go visit my new home.

Traveling up a steep, winding road, there at the top of the hill sat and old, dull white house. The back screen door was falling off, the fields were waist high in weeds, a huge barn was falling in. The wind was blowing the tin on the roof of the barn making incredible sounds like a dinosaur eating the scaffolding off the Empire State building.

But incredibly, inside, although filthy and neglected, the house was sound. It was quiet and dry. Huge high ceilings, hardwood floors, lots of windows and doors, porches, fireplaces, large rooms. All original hardware on the doors. New bathroom, new hot water heater, new A/C unit, new electrical wiring, good roof. It could be so much worse.

It had my favorite feeling- Potential.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Leap

The whole New Years weekend, I waited for an email from the realtor on the condition of the house.

It finally came.

The house seemed okay structually. The realtor had a contractor take a look and nothing other than lots of cleaning, paint, elbow grease and minor repair seemed necessary. New Central A/C and Heat, new hot water heater, upgraded bathrooms. Kitchen appliances older and in questionable working order, fairly new roof and new wiring.

The realtor had done a follow up call with the listing agent and was told there were 2 showings with investors scheduled for Tuesday as most people were taking Monday off for the holiday.

At 9 am Monday morning, I called my realtor, told her to write up a contract offering full price.

The Two Year Plan had swiftly turned into the Three Month Plan.

And that, my dear reader, is how you take a leap of faith.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

When Opportunity Knocks

The next couple of months, moving was the first and foremost thought on my mind.

I planned all the details and kept looking at properties. I made all decisions based on the fact I was leaving.

On the Friday before New Years, I got an email from my realtor contact in NC. She sent a listing and said, "This will not last long".

The property was listed as 13.9 acres, house with new ac/heat, new hot water heater and other than adding Sold As Is, the description was pretty vague. The pictures were worse. The selling price was under the cost of my villa in Fl when I purchased it 5 years prior. The taxes were a mere fraction of what I was paying.

I spoke with the realtor, she was aware of the property from the outside. She agreed that this was a pretty good bargain as the land was in a nice setting and had a lot of potential, it had just been neglected. As far as the calculations went, the selling price was the cost of the land alone, the house would be free. She was willing to go look at the house for me to see what shape it was in.

So while I was waiting for the realtor to catch up with the listing realtor for the key, my head was spinning.
A free house?
What did the land look like?
It was so hard to visualize.
I can afford this but can I do it?
Really do it?
I'd been talking about it forever but it had always been a retirement dream.

But I knew I needed to leave Florida but what I did not know was what exactly was I looking for?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Two Year Plan

So how do you go about jumping ship from an area you have lived in for 37 years?

This was going to take a lot of planning, time and preparation. In the fall of 2005, I started formulating The Two Year Plan. I figured it would take that long. I was just hoping that financially I could hold on and the South Florida real estate boom would continue.I was born and lived in South Georgia until the age of ten and then moved to Miami. Huge leap in lifestyle. So now I planning to do the same but in reverse.

After much discussion with my two girlfriends that were living in the same community and life circumstances it boiled down to research. Both of my daughters were out on their own and my only other family was living a short distance north in an area I couldn't even afford prior to the hurricanes so where ever I went, I was going to be on my own. Being that every part of Florida was being affected by the rising costs, I was going to have to look elsewhere.

I nixed returning to South Georgia due to the miserable summer weather. After much time spent on the internet and talking to people I knew living in different parts of the country, the Piedmont area of North Carolina fit all my listed requirements. (And yes, I truly DID have a list).

I was looking for something rural but not too far from the perks of a large town, major airports easily accessible, good job market, affordable taxes and cost of living, lower crime, affordable housing, beautiful scenery and temperate winters. This Florida girl never did well under 68 degrees so unless I was looking at Mexico, I was making an adjustment. Having traveled to western North Carolina several times, I had always enjoyed pretty much everything about it and it had been high on my retirement list. When reviewing the winter climate history, the Piedmont was a much better fit.

Luckily for me, I had gotten my first show dog from a breeder in the very area I had narrowed my search down to and we had remained in contact through the following years. I contacted her with a "Guess what? I am looking to move to your area in the next couple of years and I need a realtor".

Over the next few months, and I had a very meaningful relationship. I asked and it delivered listings from Charlotte as far north as Raleigh, just in case.

I looked at pictures of land, farms, cabins, houses, manufactured homes and trailers. I even found a river front community of travel trailers with extensive built on rooms and porches which unknowingly at that time would be within 5 miles of where I would land. I learned terms like "perked". And every so often, the realtor would send a new listing.

Even though when I purchased my villa I had no intention of moving until retirement, I always looked at it in terms of resale value. Being hooked on DIY home improvement shows, believing I could do anything and truly enjoying home improvement projects I had constantly upgraded my home and yard as I could afford. Add to that the true joy of a trip to any home improvement store to drool over tools even a small project gave this hardware store junkie my next fix.

So I finished up old projects, started new ones that I thought would increase value and make it more attractive to a buyer.

And I cleaned out closets.

Here from there- how did THAT happen??

Many people have asked me how I wound up here in the country on a farm from the big city of West Palm Beach. They are truly perplexed that a single woman would willingly pick up and move several states away, with no job, no friends, no family with 5 dogs and a cat to live in a hundred year old house and farm she bought over the internet, sight unseen. Me too.

The exact moment I made the decision to make a change, a break, an escape from South Florida was during the third out of three hurricanes to directly hit to my area in one year. Shucks, the storms were not that bad; alot of wet, wind, damage and inconvenience. It was the aftermath that drained my love for Florida. The atmosphere changed- everywhere. People, never known for being a wealth of love and friendliness were more rude and less tolerable. Drivers became more erratic long after the streets were cleaned and order restored. And everywhere you got hit with rising costs with the explanation "because of the hurricanes". Gas, electricity, taxes, HOA dues, insurance, food, everything. It was brutal. To remain in my little 800 square foot villa, I was going to need a second job and I was already working 50 hours a week in pretty well paying job.

As I laid in bed with four of my dogs and the cat listening to the wind, I did not make the decision, I just bumped up the time frame. I decided I was not waiting to retire to live a more rural lifestyle, I was getting out. I was going to take advantage of the housing boom that escalated home prices thru the roof and run.

When the winds died down, the rain slowed and the skies lightened, I walked the 40 steps to my best friends door and the first words spoken were me; "I am outta here".